“Reality TV” MMORPGs versus “Game” MMORPGs

In terms of developing games myself lately, my motivation has been poor. Forging a virtual world is a painstaking endeavor. You get to a certain point when you suddenly realize there’s no way around it, you’ve got to figure out in excruciating detail how exactly to set up a situation that generates enjoyment in terms a calculator can understand. It’s thrilling but, at the same time, not something one’s natural energy conservative drives find worthwhile. (At least when you’re not getting paid for it.)

As far as forums are concerned, however, I’ve racked my brains pretty hard over the past few days. It was pointless exercise in that I was basically attempting the pound on a fortress of other forum denizens deep-seated convictions with reason, and at the end I realized that there’s simply no way to budge a psyche whose feet are set against you. It’s like a psychologist would say, “if you’re not going to meet me half way, there’s no way to cure you.”  [To clarify, I was as guilty as not accepting a cure as them, and realized that the best thing to do was to stop propagating the infection.] However, even though this was a pointless exercise on my part, it was nonetheless that: mental exercise. My brain, for the moment, is working.

It is in this state of higher-than-usual synaptic activity that I came across an interesting realization. Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Games appeal along at least two different tangents. The first tangent is entertainment value as a game (a.k.a. flow theory).  The second tangent is spectacle value.  The existing products on the market capture them both to varying degrees.

If you take a game like Atlantica Online, you’ll notice that even a fellow experienced gamer like Grimwell seems to enjoy it.  I would say that City of Heroes belongs in the same category.  These are MMORPGs which succeed along the lines of promoting the entertainment value as a game.  They have a good balance of risk versus reward, and they meaningfully challenge the player.

Over the past few days, I spent a lot of time attacking EVE Online.  Not because I want it to fail, but rather because I never enjoyed EVE Online and I would like it to improve.  The involvement in success or failure is extremely limited, the recent dissilusion of BoB to a random defector is just one of many ways in which the risk versus reward is severely borked in that game.  However, a lot of people love this game, and that’s because the spectacle value is very high — here is a game where the rise and fall of player nations is a reality.  It’s not alone, I suspect Lineage 1 & 2 work the same way, and they are quite popular.

The epiphany is this: spectacle based MMORPGs are to flow-centric MMORPGs as Reality TV is to a typical theatre production TV show (e.g. a sci-fi or a sitcom).    The focus on a spectacle-based MMORPG is to get the players excited about being part of an unusual situation, just as the focus on Reality TV is to get the viewer excited in watching an usual situation involving normal people.  The focus on a flow-centric MMORPG is for the players to enjoy playing the game itself, just as the focus on a theatre production TV show is to entertain the viewers directly through the merits of the actors and story.

Now, personally, I prefer flow in games.  That’s what this whole, “hey Mom, I’m a game mechanic appreciator” stuff is all about.  However, if I were to design an MMORPG,  it seems to me that what I would want to do is capture both aspects as much as possible.  In the past, I described it as there needing to be a “purpose” to play a MMORPG, where most games you just play for fun, but I suspect that this “purpose” really is the spectacle value.  Why even pay $15/mo to play a game without said value?

How should one go about this?  Well, I wouldn’t be much of an aspiring game designer if I suggested ther was only one way to do it, and I wouldn’t be much of a gamer if I didn’t want you to delight me with something I didn’t think of.

4 Responses

  1. “As far as forums are concerned, however, I’ve racked my brains pretty hard over the past few days. It was pointless exercise in that I was basically attempting the pound on a fortress of other forum denizens deep-seated convictions with reason, and at the end I realized that there’s simply no way to budge a psyche whose feet are set against you. It’s like a psychologist would say, “if you’re not going to meet me half way, there’s no way to cure you.”

    There seems to be a recurring situation on your part, and you always seem to try to deflect the blame entirely on everyone else. Having read the EVE thread being referenced on the Escapist you seem completely unwilling to take any responsibility for how you presented your arguments in a way that caused people to take offense. That you think people need to meet you half way because they need you to cure them speaks volumes as to how you let your ego get in the way in these discussions.

    Even when one of the moderators who is involved in the argument more or less says “hey I understand the point you’re trying to make but the language you’re using is antagonistic and condesending” you still refuse to budge. You come back here and like you’ve done so many times before you blame the forum poster mentality, or poularity contests, or how the limitations of language lead to these misunderstandings through no fault of your own.

    You can constantly play the victim or you can say “maybe I need to re-exmine how I present myself”. You could acknowledge that maybe all the time you spending writing here without anybody with dissenting opinions responding, not only do your social skills atrophy, but you develop a writing style more suited to writing blogs than forum posting (writing an editorial vs. having a conversation). Your theories and conclusions are also so insular as a result that you often seem to find it odd when people have opposing opinions to the point where you chalk it up as self-delusion on their part or stubborness.

    • To answer your question: Could I stop sounding condescending? Yes, but you have to understand I was just speaking my mind in a straightforward, honest way. For me, what you’re asking is for me to start accommodating what I see as wrong to make the other participants happy. I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t be able to get to the root of discussing the hard logic of anything, as I see it, but rather retreading old ground for their enjoyment. There would be no point for me to even participate in the thread if I couldn’t speak my mind.

      Worst of all, it would be dishonest, I would be acting stupid to make them happy, and there’s obvious harm that comes of this. Harm by demonstrating a lack of integrity on my part, and harm in that they’ll not have a chance to figure out they’re being twits. Because I’m a person who does what he reasons is right, as opposed to what makes him popular, I won’t go there. (It’s the reason I decided to approve your comment rather than just send it to the bit bucket to save face.)

      In this particular instance, I realized that it was a mistake getting into an argument because I had foolishly taken up the mantle of reasonably dismantling EVE Online. Simultaneously, those who agreed with me on that thread had decided it was their mission in life to “reasonably defend EVE Online.” At that point, we had all lost.

      Our feet were set, neither of us were going to cooperate. I punched out because I realized the only reason why the discussion kept going back and forth like that is that they were as deluded as I was. It takes two to tango, but I remembered that that dance made us both look like idiots. In this way, it’s exactly like I said in the blog: there was no cure to be found.

      I also made the mistake of calling myself a “gaming purist.” I pretty much wrote a whole blog entry about how that was a mistake. However, overall, I wasn’t so much in the wrong in that thread, so much as the players were trying to use anything moderately offensive I might have said as a bridge to shore up their defenses.

      So, thanks for trying to help, but you had no clue. It doesn’t even matter if an admin is involved, they’re just as human as the rest of them. (He wasn’t really even a moderator, he was a web developer.) For the record, that admin did the best job of putting up a discussion, but even he was just as guilty as the rest of them of having picked up the mantle of a defender, and at that point impartiality was gone, the truth would be impossible to find. When he slipped over to the dark side of attacking the person and not sticking to the issue, I was as done with him as I was the rest of them.

  2. All I’m suggesting is that you start looking not so much as what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it. Like was pointed out in the EVE thread you often use objective language for subjective opinions. You make broad generalizations which offend people that don’t fall into them.

    Take the time to read through your posts first before hitting the submit button. Sure your post might seem harmless and inoffensive to you at first, but that’s because you know where you’re coming from. Try to look at it from someone elses’ point of view and see if anything you wrote could be interpreted as hostile, condesending, offensive, etc…

  3. Well, that’s fair advice.

    I think a lot of my broad generalizations were accidental. For example, when I went about calling myself a “gaming purist” I was actually referring to preferring games which utilize flow theory, but it came off as sounding like I thought I was God’s gift to gaming.

    We’re in agreement – in fact, you didn’t have to tell me this, I already knew – that if I had taken a little more time before making posts like that, a lot of hurt feelings would have been avoided. I should endeavor to be a little more careful in the future.

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